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[whitespace] Gael García Bernal Who Let the Dog Out? Gael García Bernal turns his canine into a killing machine in 'Amores Perros.'

Unleashed Resistance

Alejandro González Iñárritu's 'Amores Perros' offers a powerful parable against violence

By Jim Aquino

FEW DIRECTORIAL DEBUTS are as accomplished and striking as the Best Foreign Film Oscar-nominated Amores Perros (Love's a Bitch), the remarkable first feature by 37-year-old Mexico City rock DJ-turned-director Alejandro González Iñárritu. And few have divided audiences like this unflinching mosaic of Mexico City street life, with its gory depiction of the city's underground dogfighting scene.

In spite of disclaimers from the film's American distributor that state no animals were harmed during filming, critics and moviegoers have trashed Amores Perros for the dogfights and dismissed the film as sensationalistic without even considering its merits (Iñárritu's mature perspective on violence, for one thing). Sure, these simulated dogfights--as well as a later sequence depicting dog carcasses--are gruesome. But they aren't as unsettling as the scene in which a businessman quietly eating lunch at an upscale restaurant is shot to death by a hitman in front of other patrons.

If you can't get past the dogfights, you'll miss out on an energetic and nuanced look at how violence, whether physically or emotionally inflicted, affects the lives of the characters in three stories connected by the harrowing car chase/crash that opens the movie. In the first and best story, lovestruck teen Octavio (Gael García Bernal), sick of his thuggish brother's abuse of his beautiful wife, Susana (Vanessa Bauche), enters his dog, Cofi, into illegal dogfights to earn enough money to run away with Susan. A skirmish between Octavio and a competitor leads to the chase, which seriously injures several motorists, including Valeria (Goya Toledo), a supermodel whose love for both a middle-aged, married magazine editor (Álvaro Guerrero) and a pet that later turns up missing is the focus of the telenovela-style second story. Watching the crash is a mysterious derelict known as El Chivo (Emilio Echevarría), whose close ties to a pack of stray dogs and deep resentment of businessmen underlie the final story.

I can understand critics' resentment of filmmakers who include scenes of violence against animals, usually for shock value, but I think the uproar over Amores Perros' dog scenes is getting out of hand. These scenes are necessary to underscore the themes of the ramifications of violence and the cruelty and ugliness of life in a corrupt, polluted and overpopulated metropolis like Mexico City.

Iñárritu has said in interviews that he wanted to show how humans care more for their animals than for other humans and how that disturbs him. I wouldn't be surprised if somewhere, Iñárritu is watching all the brouhaha in America over the dogfights (while those same critics react indifferently to the shocking restaurant murder) and having the last laugh to end all last laughs.

Amores Perros (R; 150 min.), directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, written by Guillermo Arriaga Jordan, photographed by Rodrigo Prieto and starring Emilio Echevarría, Gael García Bernal and Álvaro Guerrero, opens Friday at the Park Theater in Menlo Park, at Camera 3 in San Jose and at selected theaters valleywide.

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From the April 12-18, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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